President's Message: Documenting a 'Notorious' Career
Friday, June 22, 2018
Early this spring, while attending ABA meetings in Washington, D.C., I took some time to visit the National Portrait Gallery. There I found myself wandering through the galleries, viewing portraits of our presidents, and discovering “The Four Justices,” a large portrait depicting United States Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. As I admired the portrait, a docent passed by and explained that the artist, Nelson Shanks, had enlarged the image of Justice Ginsburg, portraying her in nearly equal proportion to the other justices. It has become even more evident to me that Justice Ginsburg is deserving of this larger than life depiction. Several weeks after my return, “RBG,” a documentary exploring Justice Ginsburg’s life and career, premiered in Missoula; and following the film, I joined a panel of women judges and attorneys who gave voice to the experiences of Montana women in the legal profession.
Justice Ginsburg faced many challenges in her career, challenges not unlike other women who have entered a male-dominated profession. After being accepted to Harvard, she was chastised for taking a man’s spot. As one of nine women in a 500-person class, she became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. While attending law school, she managed family responsibilities and supported her husband through cancer treatment. She transferred to Columbia Law School and graduated first in her class. Despite her educational achievements, she had difficulty finding employment in the private sector because of her gender. She eventually entered academia. During the 1970s, she directed the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and won five of six cases she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. She served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and was nominated by President Clinton as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1993.
Justice Ginsburg has become known for her work ethic, intellect and for championing women’s rights and equality. Despite ideological differences, she developed a close friendship with her colleague, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. She is described in the book “The Notorious RBG” as “committed to bringing up other women and underrepresented people and to working together with her colleagues even when it seems impossible.” She has fought not just for the women left behind, but for the men who were discriminated against as well, believing that “women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” At age 85, Justice Ginsburg continues to be articulate, forceful and unintimidated. Young adults gravitate to her, have coined slogans like “There’s no Truth without Ruth” and express a newfound interest in the legal profession. For a bit of inspiration, I highly recommend that you experience the exceptional life of Justice Ginsburg by viewing the documentary “RBG.”
Like Justice Ginsburg, Montana has its share of fiercely independent women who have blazed trails and fought gender discrimination. As one of 15 women who serve among the 46 Montana district court judges, I have benefited from these trailblazers. I continue to benefit from the unwavering commitment of women and men who support diversity and equality in the legal profession. As I reflect on Justice Ginsburg’s struggles and achievements, I know that we share in the responsibility to improve our legal profession and to educate the next generation. I hope that you will reflect on how your actions serve to inspire others and how through your work you help to advance the opportunities and protections afforded to all individuals in our system of justice.